ARLINGTON, Texas — At least it wasn’t an elimination game this time.
One year and five days after giving up 10 runs in the first inning of a decisive Game 5 against the Cardinals, the Braves gave up 11 in the first inning against the Dodgers. They lost 15-3 in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
“We’re still in a good spot with (at most) four games left (in the series),” manager Brian Snitker said. “As a whole team, you just turn the page and get ready to go tomorrow.”
Snitker is right: The Braves still maintain a 2-1 series lead, even if Wednesday’s loss felt like more than one. And in the moment, it certainly did.
Kyle Wright recorded only two outs in what became the most prolific offensive half-inning in MLB postseason history. A record-tying 14 Dodgers hitters stepped to the plate (equal to the Cardinals' performance a year ago). The Dodgers had seven hits, a postseason-record 11 runs, three homers (including a grand slam), three walks and a hit by pitch in the 32-minute annihilation.
Braves pitching, which was having an immaculate postseason before Wednesday, was responsible for several unwanted records. The Dodgers' three homers and five extra-base hits each tied for the most in one postseason inning. Their 18 total bases were an MLB record for one inning.
It took only two pitches to know the Braves were in trouble. Mookie Betts led off with an infield single. He initially was ruled out, but was called safe upon review. Corey Seager doubled on the next pitch, scoring Betts from first.
The Dodgers had their first lead of the series. The Braves faced their first deficit since Game 1 of the NL Division Series against Miami. It also was the first time in eight postseason games that the Braves didn’t score first.
Wright seemed as if he might limit the damage when he induced a pair of ground outs by Justin Turner and Max Muncy, but Will Smith smacked a liner that dropped just in front of Cristian Pache in center, resulting in a double that scored the second run.
Los Angeles would add nine more two-out runs. Bellinger walked before the Dodgers hit back-to-back homers on two pitches (Joc Pederson’s three-run shot, Edwin Rios' solo blast). Wright stayed in the game and walked No. 9 hitter Chris Taylor, which was the final straw.
Snitker lifted his starter after he recorded only two outs on 28 pitches. It was a worst-case scenario for the Braves, who needed their bullpen fresh when they start an inexperienced Bryse Wilson in Game 4 on Thursday and take a to-be-determined route for Game 5.
Enter former Dodger Grant Dayton, who walked Betts and allowed an RBI single to Seager. Controversy unfolded during Turner’s second at-bat, when he seemed to stick his foot out and lightly kick a pitch as it crossed the plate. It was ruled a hit by pitch that loaded the bases.
Six pitches later, Muncy hit a grand slam that made the score 11-0, surpassing the carnage of the 2019 NLDS Game 5. Smith struck out to mercifully end the inning. For the first time this postseason, everything went wrong for the Braves – and it was only the first inning.
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The Dodgers continued piling on. Bellinger leaped at the wall to rob Ozzie Albies of a possible three-run homer (at least an extra-base hit) to end the first inning. He started the second frame with a homer of his own to extend the lead to 12.
Los Angeles added another three in the third against Dayton, who tied the playoff record by allowing eight runs in his two innings. Wright was charged with the first seven runs.
“It comes down to feeling sorry for yourself or finding a way to bounce back,” Wright said. “I’ll take what I can from that outing, learn and be better for my next outing.”
The Braves' offense did little against Dodgers lefty Julio Urias, who allowed one run over five innings. The only run was the Braves' lone offensive bright spot: Pache punished a 94-mph fastball into the left-field seats for his first career homer. The 21-year-old, who has RBIs in consecutive nights, became the seventh player to hit his first career home run in the postseason.
Huascar Ynoa, who was a candidate to start Game 5, saved the Braves from further disaster. The right-hander threw 92 pitches over four scoreless innings. His usage casts more uncertainty over where the Braves will turn in Game 5, but it can’t be understated how important his latest showing was in preventing a bad situation from getting even worse.
The Braves used only one of their primary relievers in Shane Greene, who hadn’t yet pitched in the series. He covered the final two innings on 25 pitches. They also subbed out several starting position players.
“If you’re going to lose the game, and you look back, as hard as this was to get through, if nothing else this did us some good (physically),” Snitker said. “We got Travis (d’Arnaud) out of there. (Ronald) Acuna, Freddie (Freeman). The bullpen got an extra day. Quite honestly, we’re in better shape than had we grinded out a 7-5 loss.
"We wanted to win the game. These last four hours weren’t fun. But when you look back, if you had to lose the game, then that’s probably the best way.”
By night’s end, the Braves had allowed more runs (15) than they had across their previous seven postseason games (13). No, they weren’t going to sweep their way to a title. But to see the dam break as it did Wednesday will undoubtedly shift the “Dodgers have momentum” storyline into overdrive.
The Braves still lead the series and can erase any bad juju with a win Thursday, of course, but it won’t be any easier. Wilson will make the first postseason start of his career against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who was pushed back from Game 2 with back spasms.
“It’s one game,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “There are things to build off of for tomorrow. If I know one thing about this team, it’s that we come back and prepare. ... Today just didn’t go our way. That’s fine. Tomorrow we’ll come back and put our best foot forward.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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